These stories which are unique to Luke give us a beautiful portrait of a prophet, teacher, and savior who knows our hearts, minds and whose love is universal. Here we see Jesus as one that focused on the introspection of the individual, sought out the outcast and the lost, was inclusive of women, brought peace in forgiveness, and who valued love over law, wealth and position. Although Jesus speaks to all, it is the outcasts, tax collectors, widows, and lepers who truly listen while the lawyers, Pharisees, and leaders are deaf to his words. While the intentions of the Pharisees in observing the laws and living a life of sacrifice had value, they sought a life of total perfection. In doing so, they were unable to see past the imperfections not only in others but in themselves and the full extent of God’s love. Therefore, the meaning within these stories is so crucial for our own faith lives today. For if we have all the faith in the world yet lack love, mercy and compassion we have nothing.
In the story of the Sinful Woman, Luke paints two contrasting character portraits of lives of faith. What began as a dinner invitation at the home of Simon the Pharisee, is both a moment of healing for the sinful woman, and of disconnection and judgment by Simon. The reason behind Simon’s invitation to Jesus could have been one of curiosity, or perhaps simply the honor in hosting the prophet. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Simon hasn’t invested his time or energy in providing Jesus with the full extent of his hospitality. When the woman appears, we learn that she takes the place behind Jesus, yet brings the very best that she has to offer- that of her desire to serve, heartfelt repentance and love.
This woman would not have been intentionally invited, yet she made the difficult decision to come regardless. Knowing that she would suffer the comments and stares of those present to begin her life of faith and service. We are drawn in by this intimate scene with the woman weeping, kissing and wiping his feet with her hair and pouring perfumed oil on the feet of Jesus. While Simon, sits and inwardly judges both the woman and Jesus questioning why Jesus would ever allow this sinner to even touch him if he were truly a prophet. What Simon questions, the sinful woman has accepted on faith. Still, Jesus challenges Simon to see this woman and her situation properly, and learn from her desire for forgiveness and faithful example. Finally, there is a peace that comes with the forgiveness and salvation found by the sinful woman that Simon is unable to know.
With the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke presents a challenge from a man of the law who is seeking to justify his own actions rather than truly wanting the answer on love and neighbor. First, we see how the fulfilling the demands of purity and ritual keep both the priest and Levite from fulfilling the greater command of love. Make no mistake, however, they each had a choice in their decision as Jesus clearly points out. With the Samaritan we find that the one who had the most to lose, and least to gain took the greatest risk in showing compassion beyond that which could have been expected. This time, Jesus challenges the questioner to see the mercy shown by the Samaritan, not as an encapsulated story but within the infinite mercy shown towards us by God. The Samaritan exemplified the point for Jesus that God’s love goes beyond the letter of the law, race, religion or position in society, for his love is without limits and universally extended to all.
Today, in many of our churches we still have “faithful” that seek to limit God’s love, mercy and promise of salvation. This is expressed with judgmental glances, third party conversations, and an obvious misunderstanding of the sacrament of reconciliation. Witnessed also in the shallow perspective that compassionate action towards others remains charity instead of inherent calls to justice. For, we who have been given much, much more is expected. God’s love is not reduced because there are more at the table, but rather his Kingdom grows with every soul who takes seriously the greatest commandment.
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